Carl’s calliope a hit at Aspen parade |

Carl’s calliope a hit at Aspen parade

Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Live steam has awakened a beast in Aspen for every Wintersköl parade since 1976, as Carl Bergman’s hulking steam calliope toots and whistles its way down through the downtown.

And this year was no different.

Bergman, owner of the Miner’s Building and Carl’s Phar­macy, picked up a hobby magazine one day more than 30 years ago to catch an article about a steam calliope and an Aspen tradition was born.

“It took a whole year to make,” Bergman said, calling himself an “amateur machinist.” But right away he decid­ed to put his brass and steel contraption to work.

“Immediately we thought this would be a real good con­nection for people to enjoy and for us to have a good time,” Bergman said. And getting the complex calliope up and running for local parades every year is always a “real family affair,” Bergman said.

“It’s kind of the Bergman boys type presentation,” Bergman said, adding that his son Bob and two grandsons man the float at Wintersköl and on the Fourth of July each year.

But the whole show couldn’t come off without Jim Jenkins, Bergman said, as he’s the one who actually pushes the keys to make music on the steam-puffing, rolling rig.

“Jim is really the top dog in this whole operation,” Bergman said.

The calliope is the oldest licensed boiler in the state, Bergman said. The 6-foot-tall, 24-inch-wide boiler was once used as a hoisting engine by Independence Pass min­ers.

Fueled by a wood or coal fire ” Bergman prefers wood for the smell ” the boiler creates live steam that passes through a manifold to the calliope.

There are ten keys that when depressed allow steam to pass to different-sized whistles.

Each whistle has a different diameter and a different length to produce different sounds with no flats or sharps, Bergman said, making musical production “rather limit­ed.”

The group’s favorite song is “Popeye the Sailor Man,” Bergman said, because they can use the whistling release valve on the actual boiler to make the tooting sound that punctuates the ditty.

Jenkins plays for up to two hours ” a feat that requires real “muscle power” not like any standard piano, Bergman said.

“The differential of temperature presents many, many problems,” Bergman said, and during Wintersköl it’s important to keep steam flowing to all the whistles so they don’t freeze.

Steam from the calliope billows up as high as 100 feet in the cold winter air, Bergman said.

“A lot of children are really awed by it because they’ve never seen anything like this before in their life,” he said.

It takes about eight hours to get the calliope ready, including chopping wood and putting the contraption together, Bergman said.

By state law, he must obtain a boiler operators license and keep it current to run the machine, he said, and every year the state boiler inspector comes to Bergman’s home to check the contraption.

One year, the crew just couldn’t adjust the sound of two whistles, only to remove the bells and find that squirrels had nested there in the winter and left acorns that blocked the steam.

Bergman, who lives with wife Katie in Meadowood, is in the process of putting an addition on his garage to store the boiler and calliope, he said. And every year he takes it to an antique steam machinery show in Kansas.

“We as a family really enjoy running this thing,” Bergman said.

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